Violence on television – A debate for the 21st century

Shocked by the adult content on TV? More shocked by stuff on Netflix and Prime? Are we finally enjoying the results of a censored medium finally be allowed to express itself? Two friends discuss:

Did you see Strictly on Saturday?

No I don’t watch it.

Fair enough. Eastenders seems to be getting better though. And the new series of the Walking Dead is on soon.

Is it?

Don’t you watch those either.

Not really.

Not really or not at all? Bet you liked the new X Files though, you’re into that sort of thing, aren’t you?

I don’t really watch much telly.

You’ve watched the new Doctor Who though, right? You liked Bradley Walsh in Law & Order didn’t you.

I did actually. TV’s changed since then.

I guess what with Netflix, Prime and Now TV.

Well, yes. But I was thinking mainly of the content.

Don’t tell me you’re offended by a bit of sex and violence!

Not offended no. Tired, yes.

Tired of sex and violence on TV? How can anyone be tired by a bit of that.

Because it’s not just a bit. Everything I think I might like has either overt, bloody violence or graphic injury detail. I was watching something, I can’t remember what it was, at a friend’s house the other day and this girl got out a needle and they showed how she shoved it in her vein and emptied the vial. Was not expecting that.

Can’t say I’ve noticed.

You’ve not noticed that they get away with more than they did 15-20 years ago?

Hm, maybe a bit.

15-20 years ago the most talked-about program was Sex in the City.

Yeah, I supposed it pushed a few boundries and got people talking. Looking back, it’s hard to see why. It’s pretty tame.

Tame by today’s standards.

Have you ever watched a program you’re into and been shocked by something?

I guess Glen in the Walking Dead was pretty shocking. Horrific actually.

You still watch that show though?

Got them all on Blu-Ray

So do you re-watch that bit you don’t like?

It’s at the beginning so it’s easy to skip. I liked the character.

Is that why you can’t watch it, because you were attached to the character?

I guess. I suppose too much blood and gore gets a bit…

What?

I don’t know. It’s like I need a break from it.

Why? Because it’s tiring?

Haha. I see what you did there. Yeah okay, gets a bit tiresome.

I said tiring. Tiresome implies you’re more fed up with it than I am.

No, not at all. It doesn’t bother me at all. The Muskateers was better when it got more grown up.

How did it get more grown up?

The situations, the stories.

And the violence.

Yeah, that too. Way better.

Was it the violence, the gore that made it better, more grown up?

Not just that, but it brings home the danger to you.

You mean the dangers the characters are in? When you see something nasty happen to a character you like, it makes you hate the bad guys more and cheer on the good guys?

Yeah, it’s like in True Blood once, someone got torn in half by a vampire thing and it made you fear for the rest of the characters after that.

Drama must’ve been real boring in the last century.

What makes you say that?

Because they didn’t have all this detailed violence and gore years ago. Not like we have today.

I expect they were still good programs. Just in their own way.

I think they were better.

Really? Hustle and Jonathan Creek, stuff like that?

Yeah and before it, Inspector Morse, Heroes, Frost.

Going back a bit aren’t you? They were great at the time.

Now you got your blood splattering in hi-def it all pales in comparison, right?

Programs are written differently now, filmed differently. Made differently with new actors. Things have progressed, moved on. You should too. Anyway new Jonathan Creek was on last year.

Even Jonathan Creek has become more gruesome.

Yeah it’s rubbish now. We’ve got loads of great dramas now. Vikings and Peaky Blinders. American Gothic is good, Behind No. 9. All great.

All violent.

Yes, sometimes.

Is it always needed?

Needed? How do you mean needed?

I mean does the story dictate that you see someone’s chest blown apart for a reason?

I don’t understand?

Would the story be just the same without the graphic violence?

I guess.

How many times has a gruesome, graphic death and the level of detail depicted been important, like essential to the story? Because if it doesn’t serve the story then it’s just gratuitous.

Wow, you sound like a prude?

Why? Because I don’t need that sort of thing to enhance my enjoyment of a program?

Because it’s just play acting and tomato ketchup at the end of the day.

But you can’t watch Glen getting whacked to death with the baseball bat, even though it’s all actors and ketchup?

That’s different. He was a good character and I liked him.

So it’s the context.

Yes.

Do you think the people who made it knew how powerful that scene was going to be?

Probably. They probably got a kick out of it.

Out of making so horrible some people couldn’t bear to see it twice?

I don’t know if they thought that, just that it’d scare people.

But not scared enough to never see it again?

Hm, some people will.

But you said not you? I think they misjudged how powerful it’d be.

They’re talented professionals making these shows. I’d be surprised if they misjudged it.

Then what you’re saying is they made a small slice of television that only those with strong constitutions can watch? That’s kind of pointless isn’t it? I mean, one of the joys of becoming a well paid talented professional, in any field, is more people will be exposed to the brilliance of you work. What’s the point in making something so detailed and brilliant it’s so powerful it’ll only every be seen again by accident or by a smaller amount of people than will have watched the whole episode?

I suppose that’s one way of looking at it.

When something’s edited together, the picture graded, the sound adjusted, the camera angles chosen and the music added, I think it’d be very easy for something to have a more far-reaching impact than those who worked on it every day for goodness how long could consider. If you’re working on it you’re naturally going to become desensitized to it and very easy to become surprised at somebody else’s shock.

At the end of the day it’s one scene in a very, very good drama. I can get past it.

Would you prefer not to have to “get past it”. Would you prefer things like that weren’t there for you to have to try and ignore.

Hm, I don’t know. I don’t agree with it being taken out if that’s what you mean.

No, that’d be censorship.

What you’re suggesting is censorship though?

Any kind of censorship offends me.

You agree, people can make their own decisions on what they can and cannot accept in the context of drama?

Of course I do. I’ve made the decision to circumnavigate programing that irritates and offends me. I’m just like any other viewer in that respect. I just have a much lower threshold of acceptance than most. Boundaries are still being pushed, anyway. It’s ongoing. I think the next generation of program makers will tell us whether or not the current generation went too far.

Why?

Because the next generation always buck out-dated against the trends of the former. It’s the way of things. If graphic violence and sex on TV may date itself in the same way a casually racist comments dates programs that are 30 years old.

I think the next generation will enjoy their sex and violence just as much as the current.

At the moment directors are learning and playing with new and developing technology. They’re seeing how life-like they can make things, they’re experimenting to a large degree. Directors have never before had the creative freedom to make programs like Game of Thrones. 30 years ago not even American television could do just to such an epic tale. Even if they did make it, so much of the books would’ve been cut out and deemed unsuitable. Directors are enjoying their new found freedom, and the huge money Amazon and Netflix spend. When the money and the technology becomes familiar, it might also become old-fashioned. I think we’re on the edge of it right now. It’ll be live, raw performances and a sparse, thrown-together style that will emerge as the alternative to the current, soon to be out-dated trends.

Or there will be better technonolgy, more money and more violent effects.

Maybe.

Interesting what you said though, that 30 years ago no TV network would ever consider making a program like Game of Thrones, even if they could’ve afforded it.

Why do you suppose that is?

Stop being smug. You know why. Because 30 years ago people would’ve been up in arms over it. People are more used to adult content like that now.

Desensitized, in other words.

Well, yeah.

Bit cynical isn’t it?

It’s just entertainment.

That’s what I keep thinking. The very fact that sexual violence is watched as part of something that’s designed to entertain has a certain voyeuristic nature that doesn’t sit right with me.

But I said it before, it’s just actors and make-up.

You wouldn’t watch a video on You Tube of someone being beheaded would you?

What? That’s awful, course I wouldn’t.

But you’ll fire up Prime and watch a beheading on Vikings. Nice and big on the TV, you’ll soon know what it looks like, what it sounds like.

But it’s not real!

When it’s that realistic what’s the difference?

Because one’s an actor getting up, cleaning off the make-up and going home to his family, the other has just been murdered in cold blood.

But both will look the same, if the program makers have been as realistic as they intended to be, both would look the same.

They might look the same but they wouldn’t be.

Do you feel like more a rounded person for sitting through a dramatized beheading knowing people have gone through similar, horrifying experiences. Do you feel as though you’re able to empathize a little better.

No, it shocks and surprises me and I like the feeling of that initial jolt but I don’t dwell on it like that. The thought that I’ve just seen a dramatization of something real-life and horrible like that doesn’t bother me. It doesn’t stop my sleeping or watching that program next week. If it was something that bothered me I might skip it next time, like the Glen beating scene.

Why?

Because sometimes I don’t want to be jolted or shocked, I just want the action to play across the screen and just, well just be entertained without being challenged in that way.

In other words you sometimes find it tiring?

Sometimes, yes.

What about the F-word? Used too much these days?

You sound like my dad.

So, no then.

It’s weird hearing it on TV because you never used to.

Even the C-Word sometimes.

The F-word. The C-word. Do you have any idea how juvenile you sound?

You were the one who said I sound like your dad. What’s that if not juvenile? And what’s wrong with saying the same things as your dad?

Because he says “in my day we didn’t show men kissing.”

He’s right.

We didn’t have all this swearing on TV.”

Again…

Yes but it’s better now. We have men kissing men, women kissing women…

Antelope kissing antelope.

Huh?

Sorry it was a cartoon I watched the other day.

Cartoons are violent.

They’re played for laugh, they’re not depicting events are truth.

Hm. I guess. But my dad’s wrong. In his day they didn’t have sex, swearing and violence on TV as much as we have now but that’s why those programs look so old now. They’re so tame.

They had to work harder to create dramatic situations back then. They didn’t make you care about a character because you were afraid they’d meet a bloody, awful end. They had to do other things, like character build. Nowadays the short hand is Scene 1 – Gunshot. Head explodes. The viewer instantly knows this is a violent terrifying world in which the story is set. What about Scene 1. Gunshot. Woman falls to the ground.

What no blood?

Do you need it?

If I’m supposed to be informed in this short scene that the story’s set in a violent, scary world then it would help get that across.

Why? You need to see a head explode to grasp that people getting shot is violent and scary and fatal?

Well she might not be dead.

So you need a pool of blood at the very least?

Yes.

How much?

What?

How much blood do you need to see to grasp the fact she’s dead? A small puddle? A large puddle? Does it need to ooze? Does it need to spread? Do you need to see it trickle out of the gun shot wound? And how do you know she’s bleeding but still alive?

I don’t know?

Statistically there are so many gun shot deaths that chances are somewhere in the world somebody has just been killed with a gun at the exact moment you see blood splatter across your hi definition TV as an actor plays dead. That’s worrying.

There’s so much rape in the world that the minute you turn on a porno chances are someone’s getting abused the instant a porn actress bears all.

Your argument is silly.

Not more silly than yours. You’re trying to make me feel bad because I don’t get uptight and anal about blood and guts on telly.

And you’re poking fun at me, calling me a prude.

But you are!

Why because I don’t like watching that sort of thing on TV?

No, for making me feel funny about it. You’re over sensitive.

What we choose to call self-censership can range from holding back out of sensitivity, rather than repression. And repression is what you’re suggesting when you call me a prude. You think yourself more enlightened because of you have a compartitively more liberal attitude?

Not at all. It’s usually the holy-than-thou types that think they’re superior in this kind of argument. 

I didn’t intend for you to feel funny about it, we agreed decisions ultimately lies with the individual. Whatever it is.

Well, anyway. I’ll think again next time somebody is impaled with a 30ft blade on TV.

Really?

I had no idea some people get so upset by it.

It’s frustration really. It seems that’s all there is. Everything has violence, gore or injury detail these days. It’s too jarring, too much of a jolt and it’s everywhere. I can’t join conversations about TV like I used to because they don’t make drama for people with my sensibilities.

Hm, so all you have left is old stuff?

Yes.

Boring.

Dull.

What you going to do?

Wait for the next generation of TV makers.

And watch not watch any new drama on or Netflix?

Probably.

Copyright Martin Gregory (A loony with great hair).

1 Comment

  1. I agree that there is too much gore and bad language and sex on TVs. But people are affected by different forms of violence my husband can’t watch anything to do with knives it makes him cringe. I don’t like cruelty and aggression blood doesn’t bother me. But let’s face it anything is better than reality tv such as big brother. And I think the old stuff was better stories and some times better acting because that was all there was. It’s like the old saying people who argue with bad language is because they arnt intelligent enough to get their view across with out it. It takes good actors a good script and a good story to make a film with out violence and special affects and bad language. But I also agree we are all capable of making our own minds up and don’t need censereship.

    Liked by 1 person

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